The impact of MMR and introduction of stricter lending criteria, coupled with a change of message in much of the media, are leading to lower applicant numbers and a noticeable shift in the key “supply and demand” balance.
Two consecutive months of falling asking prices in London make for an interesting barometer too, particularly if you believe in “the ripple effect”.
Dramatic though it may sound, “Adapt or Die” needs to be the company mantra. “Old market” habits may not generate sufficient business in changed conditions, but although they must be reviewed, habits are notoriously difficult to break.
The first step to take is to review the working processes in place for your listing and selling operations and assess your team’s effectiveness at each stage of these processes.
The listing operation comprises six key stages to focus on – generating appointments, booking appointments, preparation for the valuation, the valuation appointment itself, follow up and finally vendor management.
Survival partly depends on seizing the lion’s share of good quality available stock and to ensure you are an appropriate choice of agent for local vendors. How effective is your team at generating appointments? Leaflets, letters, wanted ads on your website, in the newspaper and window, diligent levels of contact with local “own-to-sell” applicants and running chainbuilding and homeswap registers have all led to an increase in valuations elsewhere.
Some agents are not experiencing a reduction in valuations so the second stage of the process – booking appointments - becomes their initial priority. When valuation enquiries are taken, are the staff handling that stage in an exceptional manner and being seen as different from your competitors – have they been trained in building real rapport with these potential clients by establishing their true underlying reason for move and prioritising the quality appointments according to motivation and saleability? Do they know how to control the timing of the valuation in your favour and ensure your valuer meets decision makers? Do they book the appointment in such an exceptional manner that the client thinks “I needn’t talk to any other agent about my move”?
The other stages of the listing operation – including the appointment itself - all play a part in your success and merit an overhaul if you are falling short of an exceptional standard. Have you accompanied your valuers on appointments and coached them on their weaknesses?
Many agents recognise the necessity to increase fees, but such ambition will only be realised by being seen as different from your competitors. The good news is that behavioural difference costs no money – just energy and effort.
The crucial stage of following up valuation appointments is always one which can be improved. Keeping in touch makes a massive difference to success. Agents who plan and implement a diligent follow up system will inevitably win more market share.
The final stage of the listing operation – vendor management – is absolutely critical to success. What is the system and standard of ongoing client care and contact? Have the staff been trained how to persuade vendors to improve the saleability of the instruction? Senior staff visiting these clients has a far greater success rate than a sporadic telephone call from an inexperienced employee carrying out a task in which they have little expertise or confidence.
As far as the selling operation is concerned, again there are six processes that must be reviewed. Knowledge/preparation, creating the right first impression, accurate applicant qualification, matching/benefit selling, gaining commitment, obtaining/negotiating offers – effectiveness in all these disciplines is critical. Yet our mystery shopper exercises reveal that many “negotiators” do not warrant that job title as they merely fulfil the role of polite dispensers of information and then hope that something will happen!
What are your front line staff’s sales habits? One estate agency branch upon whom we conducted a mystery shopper exercise has texted and emailed the applicant in excess of twenty times to advise of new instructions but not made a single phone call to them. A glaring example of an “old market” habit…I fear for that company’s existence if that habit is not changed.
Are the team highly skilled at identifying the “make you money” customers through higher level questioning skills? Have they been given support and guidance on maximising income streams through mortgage, conveyancing and survey referrals?
An objective review of the selling and listing processes coupled with the necessary resultant coaching and training will dramatically improve the chances of winning an increased percentage of available instructions and sales. The role of managers, directors and owners must include a significant slice of time to coach the teams towards exceptional performance – good is no longer good enough. One key question to ask yourself is how much money you are spending on servicing unmotivated vendors and applicants compared to improving the skills of your staff?
If market conditions do toughen, many estate agents may be about to be entering a battle but are failing to equip the troops for the fight.